Not Dead Yet

A History of Catholic Moral Theology in the Twentieth Century
From Confessing Sins to Liberating Consciences
James F. Keenan, SJ
Continuum, $29.95, 256 pp.

With this book, James Keenan takes his place alongside several of his Jesuit brothers who have cast light on the development of Catholic moral theology in the past century: Josef Fuchs (Keenan’s teacher in Rome), Richard McCormick (the author for many years of the “Notes on Moral Theology” in Theological Studies), and John Mahoney (author of the magnificent The Making of Moral Theology).

Keenan’s book is by no means perfect: it suffers from flaws all too gleefully catalogued by R. R. Reno in an intemperate review in First Things (December 2010). To begin with, the first several chapters sometimes read like barely reworked lectures notes: I felt like I was back in graduate school, with the difference that it was impossible to liven things up by peppering the lecturer with questions and requesting elaborations. The last chapter, on work from around the world during the first decade of this new century, proves less discussion than list. One learns who is out there writing what (and Keenan seems to have read everyone), but there is little detailed theological engagement. Perhaps the lesson here is not to try writing a history of the present.

Keenan, who holds the Founders Professorship in Theology at Boston College, is respected and well liked by his colleagues in the academic guild. He has been the organizer of two influential...

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About the Author

Bernard G. Prusak is associate professor of philosophy and director of the McGowan Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.